So, I was at a party a while back and there was this guy chatting to some girls in a lovely American accent. And I thought, it’s so nice, all the multi-culturalism we’re experiencing down here lately, but then later on when he wandered into my periph and I asked him what part of the States he was from, he told me he was born in Nelspruit but that when he left college he lived in Chicago for nine months. Nelspruit? Nine months? Okay, something is very wrong with this picture.
Now, I understand very well the seductiveness of Americana. When I was 10 I regularly had conversations with myself in the mirror in a phony American accent because, in those days, everything American was cool and everything South African was stupid. They had The Cosby Show and CHiPs, we had Trompie and Blitzpatrollie. They had cool presidents and a Star Spangled banner, we had P.W.Botha and Oranje Blanje Blou. It just wasn’t ayoba to be from here. And it was devastating to me that my parents couldn’t see the error of their ways, pack up our belongings and go somewhere fabulous, like Idaho. Because any back-water town in America had to be better than Somerset West.
I also wanted to wear normal clothes to school, go to the prom, be in a sorority (not that I know what that means to this day) and drive at the age of 16. I just knew that in America I would be something. But, happily, I grew up and was lucky enough to travel and while I love the US with a capital ‘l’, and if I had to live anywhere else in the world it would probably be there – I mean, who else puts bacon on a cake? – I’ve also learnt that America is just a place like any other, and while it’s really, really good at marketing itself, real-life Americans are just ordinary people, and for all the hoo-hah surrounding this nation, can be surprisingly conservative and parochial in their thinking.
Which makes me curious about why some of us are so eager to leave our roots behind and take on this identity. Danish actress from the eighties, Brigitte Nielsen, had barely been in Hollywood for five minutes when, in an interview on Danish television, she asked the host to please speak English as she ‘couldn’t remember’ Danish. Huh? Then of course there is Charlize who we can’t get cross with because we love her so much, but must she talk like that all the time? Nicole Kidman still speaks like an Aussie, after all, and everyone understands her perfectly.
I guess, somewhere in our psyche, we’re still a bit shy about coming from a country which institutionalized racism right up to the nineties, and we’ll always have a slight inferiority complex about being on the arse-end of Africa and not having been allowed to buy Levis. But the truth is that lately we’re actually pretty much up there in the stakes of cool. I’d say, since Mandela, Nelspruit might even beat Idaho as a happening place to come from. So, Nelspruit guy, I hope when you’re old like me you’ll see the silliness of pretending to be something you’re not, drop the fake accent and embrace your roots. You’re more interesting than you think.
10 thoughts on “Don’t speak American when you’re actually from Nelspruit, guy”
I just has a DJ play here who was supposedly from New York, i posted it all over the place, ” Our first DJ from New York in Tofo ” ,he was from Maputo and had spent some time in New York, so have i and i don’t walk around talking “” New York”‘. I also found out he had already played here 3 years ago much to my embarrassment. :)
I’ve from America and I can’t even begin to tell you how fascinating this blog entry was to me!!!!! Also – I worked with 2 guys from SA and I just LOVED their accents – LOVED! Why anyone would want to have an American accent is lost on me LOL.
And just so you know – people in America fantasize about living anywhere else (usually Europe) and fake those accents all the time too (Madonna). :)
Sarah Wells firstname.lastname@example.org
Ha ha! Thanks so much, Sarah. Interesting to know! I cringe when I speak to American friends and the language just rolls off their tongues while our vowels sound so ugly and flat. But good to know you think we sound okay! :-) All the best to you, and thanks so much for taking the time to comment! Have a great day in the USA x
Would it make you feel any better to know that I went back to the US after six months in Jo’burg saying Jah and Yis?
It took me 6 years to adapt a proper New York accent. I arrive in SA and my uncle tells me to lose my ‘bloody Yankee accent’. Now I just add a ‘jah’ and a ‘howzit’ once in a while and he has stopped complaining.
The South African accent is so ugly I’m not surprised so many people want to change it ja?
I don’t think it’s ugly at all. Compared to what?
Again, I’m late to the party here. Where I live in the SS, its often like ‘little England’ and am I sick of it. At least Afrikaners with their foreign ancestry are proud to be SA’n and choose to be associated only with SA. But a lot of my SA’n-born friends always refer to their ‘roots’ as ‘foreign’ and I said to a friend just a few weeks ago, ‘you know ‘yeah’ doesn’t do it for me, its yah or ja from now on. When I hear (and have seen) of all the ‘stuff”, very bad weather and all, going on all over Europe and the States, I am more than happy to be in the country of my birth, which I dearly love, warts and all.
Oh, and speak of Charlize, and I ll add Margaret Gardiner, what an irritation. I cant watch them.
I have family living in AUS for 26 yrs and when they come over, often, they still speak like SA’ns and even throw in a bit of slang here and there.
Leila, with elocution lessons, it can be beautiful in its natural well-spoken accent.
As Susan says, compared to what?
Reading this as an American is so funny. Especially places like ‘Idaho’, while very pretty it’s also very apple-pie, Americana, too Vanilla, where everyone is Christian and straight with perfect teeth smiles. Yet we seek to get away from small towns and go to more glamourous big cities like New York, Los Angeles, or even Chicago or St. Paul (Minnesota) or even abroad to Johannesburg if people can afford it.
About Charlize Theron, if you hear her interviews in America spoken in an American accent that even Americans have a hard time mastering, she said when she first came to Los Angeles, she had a hard time being understood – and she’s Afrikaan speaking and she had trouble with just even English. When she went on auditions, her accent isn’t British or Australian and it was hard to cast her in films. So, she just learned to talk American and that was that. And she’s a very lovely lady and speaks glowingly about her homeland – always. But I agree, it must be jarring for SA to watch their compatriot speak in an accent that is so foreign.